Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Jim Hirabayashi - Rick Shiomi Interview
Narrators: Jim Hirabayashi, Rick Shiomi
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 27, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-hjim_g-01

<Begin Segment 1>

Q: Rick, can you tell Jane your motivation for wanting to do Point of Order? What was it about Gordon's story?

RS: Well, to my mind, it was the fact that here was one man who had decided to do something that nobody else had done. Well, there was one or two other people but I knew him personally through work in the community in Canada. And so the idea of this guy who has, had gone against virtually everybody else was fascinating to me. He was basically, to my mind, a loner, and I think I have an interest in people who are loners.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about why he did what he did? Do you have an opinion about that?

RS: When I got involved in the research, and I did interviews with him and friends of his and did some readings of the court cases and all that, it became, it was a very complex question. It's partly his own family. His parents are quite unusual. His mother is, quite, was quite a fighter, quite a, you know, active person. His father was quite religious and they were of an unusual religious sect that in order to remain in that group, they had to sort of endure a lot of social criticism from other groups or... and people like that, so there was that. And he himself ended up being involved with the Quakers who had been involved with sort of civil protests and things like that. So his whole background was leading him to a position where he was able to begin to think about not obeying the government, which a lot of other Japanese hadn't even thought of. They weren't, they were in a position of just thinking, well, the government is telling them what to do, then they better do it.

Q: The other day you said you thought, originally you thought other Japanese Americans would also resist? Can you talk about that?

RS: To a certain degree, because Gordon was involved with Quakers in his university group, he wasn't that involved with the Japanese community itself. So what happened was that when he made his decision, he was making it with his friends in a relatively isolated situation. And the way Gordon thinks is quite logical, and so he thought, "Here is the logic of the situation, that it's wrong, and that I should do something." And he thought a lot of other Japanese would think the same way. To his surprise, it was only until after he had been arrested and everything else that he realized there was only one or two that were gonna do that and so, at that point, he had committed himself, so it was too late for him to turn around personally.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

Q: Jim, can you talk about what you remember about your brother making the decision and your family going, you and the family going into the camps?

JH: Well, it was not so much knowing very much about the decision making. We were all caught up in this rush about getting ready for the camp and things like that, so that I wasn't aware too much of the decision making on his part. Just hearing some things through my parents, because you have to remember that I was about eight years younger than he was. So that we were much younger and so we weren't in the decision-making process. He discussed these matters with my parents, I'm sure, but as for us, we finally found out later on that he wasn't going to be with us.

Q: Do you remember what you thought when you heard he wasn't going to be with you?

JH: Well, you know, we sort of looked up to him because he was the oldest brother. And being the oldest brother, well, he was almost like a father figure. Because when you're in a situation where my parents or my grandpeople, the person that would intercede mostly between us when we were growing up and the culture, the dominant society around us, it'd be the older brother. So that we had sort of a view of him being our protector and he was an idealist so that I think we sort of all admired what he did, and I think we emulated him also. We all sort of went into academia probably because he was doing that.

Q: Do you have, added to the, more specifically, do you have feelings about why, what sort of went into making him make that decision?

JH: Well, I think he's always been sort of an idealist. He, even when he was growing up, he was in the Boy Scouts and he went further than anybody else. Whatever he did, it seemed like he was doing these sorts of things to the fullest. And so when it came to this decision, I think it was taken pretty much the same way. He just thought out what was correct and just did it. So it wasn't so much whether he should do it or what would others think, he just did what he thought was right.

Q: Rick, do you have any feelings for how Japanese Americans might have viewed such action then and now?

RS: I think it's changed quite dramatically. Initially I think a lot of, there was a lot of support for him among certain segments, I think, of the Nisei, but there was also a lot of people who thought that he was just a fanatic, they thought he was either a religious fanatic or he was either somebody who was out to be a martyr or he was somebody who was trying to get attention. There was a lot of reasons why, or a lot of reasons that people thought he did it, and I don't any of them really were, were fully valid at all.

JH: Some thought he was rocking the boat.

RS: Yeah. Really, I mean, he was being a radical and rocking the boat and all that, so they really, they sort of thought him as an aberrant, somebody who really represented none of them in a way. But on the other hand, like, you know, he's a man of great patience, and so forty years later, and with his court case and that, there's a lot of people that have really swung around and have supported his position. And I think that that's great. That, to me, is like... he never set out to, to show the Japanese community that they were wrong. He never set out to show them, to show them up, in a sense. It's their own, perhaps, their own embarrassment at the time that they felt that way toward him. And I'm glad now that there's been a lot more support for him because there's been a recognition of how difficult it was to go that route alone when a lot of people didn't think you were doing the right thing. And still, you know, he did it.

JH: I thought that change came over during the time when the Third World push came, and I think people began to search in the literature for people that made a stand whenever, way back. So that many of the students, particularly during the student strike at San Francisco State, they began to look about for culture heroes and he began to gain some recognition at that time.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: Jim, can you tell us how you think, what your vivid memories of camp life were, how you think it affected people?

JH: Well, for me, when I first went to camp, we were warned of all kinds of dire consequences if we were to not obey rules and things like that, and being very conscious of the barbed wire fences and the guardhouses and being afraid to go near the fence and things like that. Other than that I remember breaking up of the family, I guess. We would spend all our time with our friends, eat with our friends. I think at first my parents tried to keep us together as a family unit, but I just went home to sleep at nights and spent the rest of the day playing or just avoiding going home. Until one night, my mother just had too much of it so that she cornered me and gave me a tongue lashing which was something I didn't count on because there were no ceilings. Walls only up to the ceiling part so that everybody down the barracks could hear. And I was counting on that not to be reprimanded but I just went too far. Learned how to play cards and things like that in camp that I never knew before. So it's kind of a radical change in our lives.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

Q: Rick, you said you have a story.

RS: It's a line from my play, no. I think it's interesting, a couple of other aspects about the life of Gordon Hirabayashi in that period of time is that, to me, there was a lot of what I consider dark comedy or it's almost like theater of the absurd, because there's a lot of role reversals, there's a lot of bizarre things like Gordon to my mind was more American than the Americans, right? He, in fact, was holding them to their word and their word was in the Constitution and the rights and all that. And so Gordon said, "If you've written down these, all these things, and you believe in them, then of course given my case, then I shouldn't be put away like this." And little did he know, of course, that that's just all rhetoric and that in fact, America works by a whole different set of rules than those rules, to my mind, anyways. And so what happened is that, an example of that was that when he was in jail and he had heard about his court case and the decision, he was being kept in jail, he was supposed to be sent to a road camp and he was in the county jail and he said, "I'm not supposed to be kept here, I would like to be sent to the road camp." And the warden said that, "You can't because there's no openings." And Gordon had learned through the grapevine in the prison that there was in fact one in Tucson, Arizona. So he said, "I can go there," and the warden said, "Well, no you can't because we haven't got anybody to send you." And he said, "You don't have send anybody with me, I'll go by myself." And so the warden said, "Well, we can't really do that because you would also have to go through the restricted zone. The very reason that you are in this jail is because you decided you wanted to stay in the restricted zone." So Gordon says, "No, no, I'll hitchhike my way around." So they let him go. And so he hitchhiked through the restricted zone, got down to the jail in Tucson, and said, "Here I am, I'm Gordon Hirabayashi, I'm gonna turn myself in." And of course at that point, the guard there or the person there said, "Well, we don't know who Gordon Hirabayashi is, so you can't get in here, right?" So he had to literally go down the road, spend the night in a motel, go back the next day and say, "I'm here," and then the guy said, "Oh yes, we checked out the records, and in fact, we had misplaced your file. We're gonna let you in," right? And so they took him into the jail, and I, this is, this is kind of a joke. This is a bizarre joke that's being played on America, in a way. And I think those kinds of things, when he told me some of those stories, I thought, there's gotta be something here to write about, you know.

JH: And actually, Tucson is in Military Zone A so that he ended up in a restricted military zone.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

Q: Jim, do you have something you wanted to relate?

JH: Well, I guess it was just a story that I had told Rick one time trying to give him an idea of some of Gordon's quirks, I guess. We grew up during the Depression time so that we were always short on money. And one day he came to visit me and here we were, both in our professions and making a great deal more money than we did during the Depression. And he was asking me how much it cost to send an airmail letter back to his office in Canada, and I said, well, I think those days it was ten cents. And the regular surface mail was five cents in those days. And so he's sitting there contemplating, he says, "Well, how long does it take to get a letter back there by surface mail and by airmail?" And then I finally figured out that he's trying to, trying to decide whether to use a five cent stamp or a ten cent stamp. And then I got mad at him and I says, "Hey, you know, you're wasting our time. Here's a ten cent stamp, airmail it," and I gave him a stamp. And I later found out that he had airmail stamp, but he used mine. But it's the kind of thing that you, when you experienced certain kinds of things during the Depression, you don't forget it. You're always trying to save your pennies and he spent quite a bit of our time thinking about it.

RS: I think that that's really true in the sense that Gordon's a very particular man, and his sense of keeping track of things, of doing the right thing is very particular and I think that that's also a part of him that helped him to do what he did because it was, he had a particular point to make to the American government, or to, what it is to be an American citizen. And he wasn't gonna let 'em get away with it, so, it's just that, it was like a coming together of a lot of ideas. His idealism, his particularness, his family background, there's so many things that came together and just seemed to give him, everything seemed to give him the strength to do what he had to do, which I think is great.

Q: You think this shook his faith in this country?

RS: No, I don't think so, 'cause as I said earlier, he's a man of great patience. And whether it takes a year or ten years or forty years or a lifetime in order to receive the kind of justice or to assert himself and have the country realize that, in fact, they did make mistake, that would be proof the America, you know, for him, that America does believe in those ideals. Personally I don't, but he has that kind of faith in America, and that's a great thing.

JH: I think he's facing the rehearing with that same kind of attitude. He still believes what he did is right, and so the rehearing is just another phase of it.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.